Free early-morning MRT rides extended for a year

Although early birds can catch a free train ride into the city, most commuters are still opting to fight the morning crush. Fixed working hours remain their main stumbling block, say two in three peak-hour travellers.

So the Land Transport Authority (LTA), which is extending its free-travel trial for a year, is hoping to get more companies to adopt flexible work arrangements.

Under the scheme, commuters who exit at 18 city area MRT stations such as Bugis or Tanjong Pagar before 7.45am get a free ride.

About 7 per cent of commuters now travel outside the 8am to 9am peak period, Senior Minister of State for Transport and Finance Josephine Teo said yesterday. But this is lower than the 10 per cent to 20 per cent that Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew had hoped for when he announced the scheme in April last year.

An LTA poll of 4,000 commuters last September found that two-thirds of peak-hour commuters said they travelled during the rush hour as they did not have flexible work arrangements. So the LTA will focus on getting more bosses to implement this, said Mrs Teo, speaking to reporters after a 7.30am visit to Bugis MRT station to observe commuter traffic.

Some firms have already got on board. Mr Max Loh, managing partner for ASEAN and Singapore at accounting firm EY, said: "It's a choice we give our employees. People can come to work earlier and go home earlier."

Mrs Teo also said that while the free train rides before the peak hour rush will be continued till June 23 next year, it is too early to tell if it will be made permanent.

Lacklustre public transport has become a common grouse among many Singaporeans. According to an LTA poll last year, the percentage of people satisfied with the MRT system slipped from 92.1 per cent to 88.9 per cent - its lowest since the first poll in 2006.

The free ride scheme is one option the Government is testing to ease the crowds. The LTA is also running a series of activities to make travelling before peak hours more attractive, such as giving free breakfast vouchers.

Urban transport academic Park Byung Joon of UniSIM noted that the scheme was meant as a temporary measure while more MRT networks are built.

"If the scheme remains as it is, I don't think we're going to see any further reduction in peak-period commuters," he said. "But even if nothing changes, at least the people who now travel earlier will not go back to their old travel patterns. That helps."

This article was published on May 10 in The Straits Times.

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